Farms for City Children celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and proceeds from Michael Morpurgo’s new book “Didn’t we have a lovely time?” will help give even more urban children a chance to experience a real farm. Chief Executive Dr Tessa Stone writes about this unique endeavour.
Farms for City Children was founded in 1976 by Michael and Clare Morpurgo in order to give urban children from all over the country a unique opportunity to live and work together for a week at a time on a real farm in the heart of the countryside.
Forty years on we are still providing an intense ‘learning through doing’ experience of a different life for children who may not know where their food comes from and have limited opportunities to explore the outside world. Our three farms – one in Devon, one in Pembrokeshire and one in Gloucestershire – welcome nearly 3,250 8-11 year old, primary school children every year from towns and cities across the UK.
Groups of up to 39 children and 4 teachers come to the farms for a seven-day stay. They are ‘farmers for a week’, working alongside our staff to get involved in everything necessary to keep the farms going.
The programme of activities changes with the seasons and can include: milking goats; collecting eggs; bee keeping; lambing, calving and farrowing; feeding and caring for a wide variety of livestock; grooming horses; pressing apples; gardening; cooking; bird-watching; rural crafts such as willow-weaving and felt-making; and Forest School.
The farm experience is, for many, a world away from their daily lives. They live as part of a large ‘family’ and are well-fed and cared for in a homely, child-centred environment. In these peaceful and supportive conditions children flourish. Self-esteem and confidence visibly grow as they rise to the challenge around them, learn to take responsibility for what they are doing, and take pride in their efforts.
As well as learning about life as a farmer, the children gain enormously both socially and emotionally from spending a week living in dormitories together, eating together at a dining table, and enjoying time playing in the extensive gardens or playing board games and cards indoors as all our farms are screen-free zones!
One teacher who has been bringing children to us for 14 years said that when they asked the children to describe their experience in one word, they all said “freedom”.
Children who struggle in the classroom are often the ones who shine in the farm environment. As Michael Morpurgo says:
Working on the farm enables kids to feel useful. If your worthlessness is confirmed at school because you often fail there, then you become alienated from a society where success of all kinds is important. But on a farm, children can be proud of what they do.
Nearly 100,000 children have visited our farms over the last 40 years and in this, our 40th anniversary year, it is clear that what we do is sadly more necessary than ever as children become ever more disconnected from the countryside, the environment and the source of the food they eat.
“Didn’t we have a lovely time?”, a new book by Michael Morpurgo with illustrations by Quentin Blake, is being published on 6th October 2016. All proceeds from the book will go straight to Farms for City Children to subsidise each child’s place at one of the three farms.